Café Play

By Andrew Andrews

A server (Marisa LaRuffa) is startled by a talking cockroach (voiced by Nick Fondulis) in Erin B. Mee’s Café Play, presented by This Is Not A Theatre Company at the Cornelia Street Café. Original photo by Maria Baranova.

How many times has this happened to you?

You’re sitting in a restaurant or café—maybe waiting for someone to join you, or maybe just taking a break from talking to finish what’s before you… or maybe you’ve just run out of something to say—and you start to eavesdrop on the conversation at the next table, or the really loud person sitting across the room.

Maybe it’s one of those “only in New York” things, where the tables are so close together that you’re effectively required to hone in on your neighbors’ discussion about high rents or being slighted at work or the rampant inconsideration that’s pretty much everywhere in the city.

You know it happens. You know you do it. You know you’re always listening to someone nearby talking to someone else about something that doesn’t concern you.

And that, folks, is Café Play, Erin B. Mee’s performance piece at the legendary Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village.

Sure, you can think of it as dinner theatre, but suspend the fact that you’ve paid for a performance and instead imagine there’s a series of dramatic human (and not so human!) interactions taking place around you as you enjoy a prix fixe dinner at a local restaurant.

Not only is it okay to listen in… it’s expected of you.

“We have to stop looking at our phones all the time,” we’re advised. “Our civilizations might end.”

First there’s Sweet Tooth by Jenny Lyn Bader, delivered during the salad course, in which a patron of color and his friend post to social media that he’s the victim of discrimination, as two former lovers struggle between their recollections of each other’s quirks and their desire to get back together.

“People lose their judgement in the presence of sugar,” we’re warned.

In Jonathan Matthews’ Crayon Gesture Pas de Deux, members of the company (Marisa LaRuffa, Caiti Lattimer, Jonathan Matthews, Richard L. McBride, Nicole Orabona and Amanda Thickpenny) dance from table to table, engaging the audience to draw with crayons to the tune of Mr. John Langton’s Pavan, P 14, composed by John Dowland and performed by Paul O’Dette.

Then comes the risotto. Creamy, cheesy, mushroom risotto, accompanied by Jessie Bear’s Water, which chides Matt Damon’s commercial for missing the point about helping others, and Colin Waitt’s Kill Em’ with Kindness, in which one server advises another to not let the jerks get the best of her.

Things start to pick up speed after the main course. In Bader’s Cups Today, a dainty tea cup scolds a utilitarian coffee mug for degrading society with its simplicity… until she realizes, “I see there are more of you than before… and fewer of me.”

Waitt’s As Old As Salt postulates that living in a “constant state of anxiety” is a human characteristic that was programmed into our collective and individual psyches thousands of years ago, so it’s no wonder that modern society is obsessed with reading the news.

Bear and Matthews’ Manifesto attacks the contemporary form of capitalism that purports to be feminism with a pitch to join the “hundreds of thousands of other empowered women who are eating alone.”

In Mee’s So It’s Not Offensive, a woman seeks approval from her friend to allow her young daughter to dress up as an Indian (from India) for Halloween, and Waitress’ Daydream demonstrates Marissa LaRuffa’s singing talents before she and her fellow server debate what it takes to survive the Zombie Apocalypse in Waitt’s next contribution to the conversations.

Right about then, the sorbet appears. Hooray for sorbet!

Then there’s the talking cockroach in Bader’s In The Spotlightconveniently appearing after we’ve finished our meals—followed by Bear’s Mary/Ann, in which two women argue about a piece of cake and who is prettier, spiraling creatively from a discussion… into a diatribe… into a monologue.

We’ll stop now with the play-by-play to avoid giving away the entire show—even though there are already a lot of blanks you’d need to fill in from what we’ve revealed up to this point.

And you know you want to know all of those juicy details!

So what are you waiting for? Someone to take your order?

Here’s a website that will be happy to do it. So check out their next performance, then come back here and let us know which of the seventeen engaging performances and a delicious dinner for the price of a single experience you enjoyed the most!

Your reviews help others decide whether Café Play will satisfy their appetites, and your ratings help us help you find future events you’re sure to love!


Andrew Andrews attended Café Play at Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan on Sunday, September 23, 2018 @ 5:30pm to write this review.